Lord Hanuman makes two appearances in the Mahabharata, and the first one concludes the Tirthayatra parva. While the morals and lessons of the mini stories within Mahabharata can be quite subtle, this one is fairly obvious. The context of the story itself shows that this is a lesson in humility, and then Hanuman goes to explain the four yugas, and how one should conduct oneself, and gives a lesson on governing to Bhima.
It starts when a breeze carries the ‘Saugandha’ lotus to Draupadi and she asks Bhima to get more of these beautiful divine flowers with a thousand petals and lovely fragrance.
Bhima starts walking the direction of where the flower has flown in by following the wind.
He’s walking hurriedly and angrily, letting out roars, uprooting trees and killing elephants and lions that come in his way. He blew his conch shell which made the lions roar and that made the elephants trumpet.
All this noise woke up lord Hanuman who was sleeping in the forest and he yawns and hits the ground with his tail that causes such a thunderous noise that the whole mountain echoes and Bhima gets goosebumps. Bhima searches for the source of the sound and finds Hanuman. He lets out a loud roar and that scares all birds and animals but Hanuman only opens one eye a little and smiles at Bhima and asks him why he woke Hanuman up? He says that Bhima is acting against dharma by injuring animals and is acting like a child, he asks him who he is and tells him that after this point the forest is inaccessible to humans and that he should return.
Bhima says he’s a kshatriya, son of Kunti and Vayu and that he just wants to cross the forest and is not interested in learning about right or wrong from the ape.
Hanuman tells him that he’s old and ill and can’t move so Bhima should jump over him.
Bhima says that the parmatmam resides in the ape and Bhima can’t jump over him without showing disrespect otherwise he would have jumped over him like Hanuman jumped over the ocean. (This is a difficult paragraph and I feel that I’ve missed the subtlety of the text.)
Hanuman asks Bhima who this Hanuman is and Bhima tells him that he’s his brother and is very strong, intelligent and powerful, and Bhima is his equal, so if the ape wants to live he should let Bhima pass.
Hanuman smiles and says he’s old and weak and Bhima can move his tail out of the way and go forward.
Bhima tries very hard to move the tail but is unable to budge it even a little, and is filled with shame.
He now bows down to Hanuman and asks who he truly is and then Hanuman tells him who he is. Interestingly enough, there’s a very tiny summary with the highlights of Ramayana that Hanuman tells Bhima here. Hanuman tells Bhima that after the war, he asked Lord Rama that he should live as long as the tales of Lord Rama are recounted, and that wish had been granted, and that’s how he lives in this forest. He also tells him that the forest ahead is inaccessible to mortals but the lake he is searching for is not very far.
Bhima then tells Hanuman that he wants to see the form that Hanuman took to jump over the ocean. Hanuman laughs and says that’s not possible because that happened in a different yuga. Bhima then asks Hanuman to explain the difference between the yugas and Hanuman does this in great detail.
I have taken that excerpt from the book here:
‘Hanuman replied, “O son! Krita is the yuga when dharma is eternal. At the time of krita, supreme among yugas, there are no deeds to be done. Dharma knew no decay then. Nor were beings destroyed. That is the reason this yuga was known as krita. Those qualities have gone now. O son! In krita yuga, there are no gods, demons, gandharvas, yakshas, rakshasas or serpents. There is no buying or selling. The sounds of Rig, Sama and Yajur did not exist. Nor did rites, or manual labour. When thought of, the desired fruits appeared. The only dharma was sannyasa. At the conjunction of the yugas, there is no disease, or decay of the senses. There is no discontentment, no lamentation, no insolence, no wickedness, no strife, no laziness, no enmity, no distortion, no fear, no sorrow, no envy and no jealousy. The supreme brahman, the supreme objective of all yogis, and the white Narayana were then in the souls of all beings. Brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras were all auspiciously marked in krita yuga and were equal in deportment. All beings were engaged in their own tasks. The stages of life, conduct, knowledge, wisdom and deed were equally distributed among the varnas and all of them obtained equal dharma. All of them were united with one Veda. All rituals were performed with one mantra. Though they may have followed different forms of dharma, they actually followed one Veda and one dharma. They followed the four ashramas and performed tasks without seeking the fruits, in accordance with the dictates of that time. They attained the supreme objective. Everyone sought for yoga in one’s soul and being united with dharma, attained the objective. In krita yuga, the four varnas had four eternal feet. This was known as krita yuga, devoid of the three qualities.” ‘“Now hear about treta yuga. Sacrifices were introduced then. Dharma decayed by one quarter then and Achyuta assumed a red complexion. Men were always addicted to the truth and devoted to the dharma of rituals. Sacrifices were introduced and many rituals became part of dharma in treta. These were motivated by reasons and rituals and donations were because of the fruits that they would bring. People never deviated from the path of dharma and were devoted to austerities and donations. In treta yuga, people performed deeds in accordance with their own dharma. ‘“In dvapara yuga, dharma decayed by half. Vishnu assumes a yellow complexion and there are four Vedas. Some people know four Vedas. Others know three, or two, or one. Still others know no hymns. The sacred texts have thus been divided into many parts and there are many rituals. Beings are engaged in austerities and donations because of their passions. Because the single Veda is no longer known, the Vedas have been divided into many parts. There has been a deviation from the truth and there are only a few who are established in the truth. When one deviates from the truth, one becomes a prey to many diseases. One resorts to desire and there are many natural disasters. Being afflicted by these, some men resort to terrible austerities. Others, motivated by a desire to attain heaven, resort to deeds. Thus, having attained dvapara, beings decay because they are no longer devoted to dharma. ‘“O Kounteya! Only one quarter of dharma remains in kali yuga. When this yuga arrives, Keshava’s complexion becomes black. The rituals of the Vedas, dharma, sacrifices and deeds fall into disuse. There is excessive rain, disease, sin and vices like anger. There are many natural calamities. There are ailments and sicknesses. As the yugas proceed, dharma repeatedly decays. As dharma decays, beings repeatedly deteriorate. As beings deteriorate, the forces that sustain the world also go into a decline. As the yugas decay, even tasks performed in the name of dharma lead to perverse outcomes. This is the name of kali yuga, which will soon manifest itself. Even those who live for a long time must conform to the changes in the yugas.
After Hanuman reveals all this, Bhima again asks him to show his earlier form, and at this Hanuman takes a gigantic form, and Bhima is delighted and scared at the same time seeing this form, and Hanuman gives Bhima a lesson to conduct his life and then contracts himself.
This is what Hanuman says:
O son! Therefore, do not act out of bravery. Observe your own dharma. Abiding by your own dharma, know and follow the supreme dharma. Without knowing dharma and without serving the aged, even the likes of Brihaspati are incapable of comprehending dharma and artha. One should carefully discriminate among situations where that which is not dharma goes by the name of dharma, and that which is dharma goes by the name of that which is not dharma. Those who are deluded in intelligence cannot distinguish. Dharma results from conduct. The Vedas are established on dharma. Sacrifices originate from the Vedas. The gods are established in sacrifices. The gods are sustained through sacrifices and rituals prescribed in the Vedas. Even men sustain themselves through the ordinances decreed by Brihaspati and Ushanas — buying and selling, mining, trading, agriculture and animal husbandry. Everything is sustained through such vocations and dharma. For the three varnas, three pursuits have been indicated in the sacred texts—study of the three Vedas, following a vocation and governing. When these are properly followed, the world’s welfare is ensured. But if there is no pursuit of dharma and these three routes to dharma are not followed, this earth is not controlled and there is no governance. If beings do not follow dharma and their vocations, they will perish. By regularly following the three pursuits, beings prosper. There is one characteristic that marks the eternal dharma of the three varnas—sacrificing, studying and giving. These are three pursuits that are common to everyone. Performing sacrifices, studying and accepting constitute the dharma of brahmanas. Protection is that of kshatriyas and providing sustenance is the dharma of vaishyas. Servitude to the other three varnas is known to be the dharma of shudras, as it is of those who are in their preceptor’s house and cannot therefore beg for alms or perform oblations and vows. O Kounteya! Your dharma is that of a kshatriya. Your dharma is protection. Be humble. Control your senses and follow your own dharma. He who has consulted elders, the honest, the intelligent and the learned, and then resorts to punishment by the staff, governs well. But a decadent one suffers. When a king punishes and rewards according to what is needed, it is then that the contours of the world are properly laid out. Therefore, spies must constantly be used to ascertain the state of the nation, the fortifications, the forces of friends and enemies, and their conditions of prosperity and adversity. Kings possess four means that lead to success—wise counsel, valour, punishment and reward and sagacity. Whether applied together or in isolation, sama, dana, danda and bheda can lead to success. O bull among the Bharata lineage! Spies and counsel are the source of policies. Good counsel leads to success and one should consult with those who are skilled. In secret matters, one should not consult with a woman, with a fool, with a child, with one who is greedy, with one who is mean and with one who is touched by insanity. One should only consult with wise ones and get tasks undertaken by those who are capable. Policies must be devised by those who are gentle. Fools must always be avoided. Those who follow dharma must be engaged in matters related to dharma, learned ones in matters connected to artha, eunuchs in matters connected to women and cruel ones for the performance of cruel deeds. The nature of action, what should be done and what should not be done and the reasons behind any particular task, should be decided on the basis of the relative strengths and weaknesses of one’s enemy, as well as one’s own. Using one’s intelligence, favours should be shown to righteous ones who have sought refuge. However, evil and unskilled ones must be repressed. When a king follows reward and chastisement properly, the boundaries of the world are laid out properly. O Partha! This is the difficult and terrible dharma that I have delineated for you.
Now Hanuman asks Bhima what else does Bhima desire, does he want Hanuman to go and destroy the Kauravas? Bhima says that he is fortunate enough to have witnessed Hanuman’s form and see him, and he only wants that when they go to battle with the Kauravas, Hanuman is at their side. Hanuman promises him this, and then goes away from that forest.
After that Bhima continues to the lake of the lotuses, gets them for Draupadi and returns. This also marks the end of this parva.